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Full text of "A vindication of theology, being an address to theological students"


VINDICATION 



OF 



THEOLOGY: 



BEING AN 



^tMrtss to theological fpjtittlenk 



J. CLARK MURRAY, L.L.D., 

PROFESSOR OF MENTAL AND MORAL PHILOSOPHY 

McGILL COLLEGE, MONTREAL. 




DAWSON BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS. 
1*77- 



^~H>- 



^» 



1 

m 















The EDITH and LORNE PIERCE 
COLLECTION 0/CANADIANA 

Queen's University at Kingston 











A 



VINDICATION 



OF 



THEOLOGY: 



BEING AN 



J^Jtltw I0 ^Theological JSteilenis, 

BY 

J. CLARK MURRAY, LLD., 

PROFESSOR OF MENTAL AND MORAL PHILOSOPHY, 

McGILL COLLEGE, MONTREAL. 



Published by Messrs. Dawson Brothers, 
1877. 



N9 



TO THE 



THEOLOGICAL STUDENTS OF MONTREAL. 



Some recent utterances in this city seem to call for a vindi- 
cation of the rank which theology claims among the higher 
spheres of intellectual labor. I should have liked to write some- 
thing specially bearing upon the recent utterances to which I 
refer ; but as circumstances made this impossible at present, I 
have thought it worth while to print, with a few necessary alter- 
ations of expression, a discussion of the subject which I had pre- 
pared for a different occasion. In dedicating it to you, I may 
explain that it was written seventeen years ago, at the close of my 
academical curriculum, and delivered, as a valedictory address, 
to a Theological Society in Edinburgh, of which I had the honor 
to be president. You must take the address with all the juven- 
ility of thought and expression by which it is characterized : 
I should like it to be read as the speech of a student of theology 
to his fellow students in vindication of their common studies. 

J. Clark Murray. 
Montreal, March, 1877. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/vindicationoftheOOmurr 



A VINDICATION OF THEOLOGY. 



Gentlemen, — It is proverbially impossible to find anything 
fresh in addresses that recur regularly on the same occasion 
every year ; and to avoid tiring you with the repetition of com- 
monplace valedictory sentiments, I feel tempted to enter on the 
discussion of some question coming within the range of the 
science, to the study of which our Society is devoied. But I 
fear that such a course, while it might possibly have resulted in 
a performance as tiresome as any commonplace, would expose me 
to the charge of having in reality shirked the duty which you 
have done me the honor of imposing upon me. For I cannot 
feel that our present meeting is intended to be a mere repetition 
of ilie ordinary meetings of the session : rather, with the session 
now behind us, and wishing to realize thai: its work is over, we 
seem to me in the position of the man who is not unwilling to 
spend an hour in contemplating a piece of work he has just 
finished before he gathers his endgies for a fresh achievement. 
It might, therefore, be thought ihat the hour during which we 
are together here this evening would not be thrown away if I 
ai-ked you to linger for a little over the memory of what we have 
done. For me, indeed, such a course possesses a fascination 
which it will not hold out to most of you, inasmuch as the close, 
which we are now celebrating, of the session that is passing 
away, is also for me the period of transition from the life of a 
student to the doubtful life which is to follow. With the myriad- 
toned voices of a decennium of student-life coming to me out of 
the past, I might be pardoned were I to demand that you should 
listen to the notes of wisdom which they bear to us, and catch 



6 

the influence of their elevating strains. But many circumstances 
combine to destroy the charm which might otherwise induce us 
to luxuriate amid those mingled feelings which gather around 
our memories of all that is forever gone. It is unfortunate for 
the teachings of each session, as it passes away, that, however 
desirable it may be to pause before leaving it altogether, that we 
may gather from it the wisdom of reflection, the season of the 
year at which our work comes to a close is too far out of unison 
with the melancholy which tinges all thoughts of the past to 
allow any lingering among them unnecessarily. When the first 
joyous utterance of the opening spring is already reaching us in 
its earliest songs ; when already 

*' A brighter emerald twinkles in the grass, 
A purer sapphire melts into the sea," 

is it to be expected that we should be able so to isolate ourselves 
from the new life which is throbbing through all, and in the re- 
awakening joy of which all else is rejoicing, as to force from our- 
selves those tears which only 

" Rise in the heart and gather to the eyes 
In looking on the happy autumn fields, 
And thinking of the days that are no more ?" 

Instead, therefore, of leading you back on the past session, 
or past sessions, I shall ask you to take a glance forward to the 
life which all of us probably hope to enter sooner or later ; for 
it may help to present us with a purer ideal of our mission, and 
with a stronger impulse to fulfil it, if we endeavor to set before 
us at once the perennial import of that mission, and its special 
relation to the wants and the strivings of the present time. No 
man of strong and earnest spirit can enter the ministry merely 
because it chances to be a traditional sphere of activity for re- 
ligious spirits; and none can, therefore, avoid a combat with the 
doubts upon this subject which the varying conditions of human 
life, within and without the Church, suggest in every age. Are 



not the restraints, which the clerical profession imposes, such as 
to compel a man, if he would live the divinest life possible in his 
time, to seek a sphere independent of these restraints ? Can 
divine truth be spoken from the pulpit any longer as it ought to 
be spoken in the years into which our little histories have been 
thrown ? Called to face and to answer these questions for my- 
self, I may best accomplish the purpose which I have in view 
at present by endeavoring to sketch the destiny of the true 
divine, and to indicate how it may be still realized in the capacity 
of a professional divine as nobly as in any other. 

We are come into human history at a time when every day is 
making it clearer to men's minds that all the professions and 
sects, all the divisions of thought and activity into which men 
separate, are comparatively indifferent to the purposes of man's 
destiny. It is growing less and less the custom that a man 
should anxiously search out what seems to be the purest sect, 
and then abandon himself to mere special pleading for it ; and, 
in the choice of an occupation, the number is becoming smaller 
of those who pitch on what they deem the most dignified pro- 
fession, and delude themselves into the conceit that its dignity 
must ennoble them, however ignobly its duties may be performed. 
The conviction is now growing among all earnest souls, that every 
man should throw himself into that position where the conflict 
with evil seemfc'most to require a fresh combatant, confident that, 
with whatevei conventional name he may have been dubbed by 
friends or foes, the eternal worth of his work cannot thereby be 
altered or lost. If this is a right reading of the indications of our 
time ; if, further, this is a proof that men are learning to estimate 
each other more purely according to the truth of things, — then, in 
attempting to picture the form in which a truly divine life may 
yet be fitly lived in our profession, we must free ourselves from 
every tendency of thought or feeling which would invest that 
profession with any real sacredness that is not won for it by the 
sacred character of its members. All attempts to find the per- 
manent good of humanity in anything but the noble lives of God- 
serving men must be utterly resisted ; and such resistance is all 



8 

the more necessary that the voices of the wise are still often 
drowned in the babble about ecclesiastical and political constitu- 
tions, in which churchmen and statesmen alike become oblivious 
of the fact that the most perfect polity is worthless without men 
by whom it can be effectively wrought. It is mournful to see 
even scholarly men torturing themselves, and other simpler souls, 
with fears lest, if we lose Presbytery or Episcopacy, or some 
other pet scheme of government in Church or State, the organiza- 
tion of human society must break up into universal anarchy and 
ruin. There would indeed be an alarming probability of such a 
ruinous torrent of anarchy sweeping away all the accumulated 
fruits of human civilization, if the only barrier against it were 
any of the human inventions for government, however cunningly 
devised ; but it is comforting to believe that the tree on which 
these splendid fruits have grown strikes its roots into that soil of 
the Eternal Heavens from which man's nature draws its immor- 
tal food. 

Gentlemen, is it an altogether superfluous question for us, 
whether the prospects which we are cherishing, and the plans 
which we are forming, are calculated to save us from the dissipa- 
tion of our energies in such ill-directed efforts as those to which 
I refer ? Have we no lingering belief that some favorite church 
machinery, especially if it is associated with opinions which have 
been long voted orthodox, will be sufficient to accomplish the 
world's regeneration? If we have emancipated ourselves from 
such convictions ; if we are filled with the conviction that the 
world can be bettered, that the cause of God and His Christ can 
be advanced, only by true men, — then we must go back on the 
nature which God has given us to learn from it what we are capa- 
ble of being, and what we are destined to be. The true man is 
he who has persisted in excluding from his God-given nature every 
extraneous corruption, who has endeavored to let that nature 
develop itself as God intended it to do. We must, therefore, seek 
in the development of that nature for the true destination — the 
chief end — of man. Be not surprised that you are brought back 
to the first question which our earliest catechism taught us to put 



9 

to ourselves ; for the nearer we advance towards the realization 
of its true answer, we find that we have but distantly descried its 
high significance. Every man who strives practically to solve 
the question will find that he is ever failing to exhaust the mean- 
ing of his solution ; and, therefore, when the question is answered 
in the form stated above, you will not be startled into the suspi- 
cion that I am departing altogether from that statement of man's 
destination in which we have been taught from early childhood 
to reply to this enquiry. My aim, at least, has been merely to 
express the meaning of that answer as it unfolded itself to my 
own mind ; and, in truth, if the chief end of man is to glorify God 
and to enjoy Him forever, tell me wherein that man comes short 
of this end who attains the complete and harmonious develop- 
ment of the nature given him by God ? For if man is really God's 
image, and not the devil's, then what other glorification of God 
can we effect than by striving to retain the image after which we 
have been fashioned ? Now, if we render glory to God in propor- 
tion to the perfection in which we retain His likeness, and if our 
enjoyment of Him is to be estimated by the force of our revolt 
against all that is unlike Him, there is no other destination for 
man than to wage an unwearying war against all that impedes the 
full, free', and harmonious growth of his own God-like nature. 

In accordance with these principles, the value of any sphere 
of human activity, in its bearing on the purposes of man's destiny, 
will be estimated by the absence of those influences which are 
calculated to hinder, and the presence of such as are calculated 
to incite, the complete and harmonious development of the 
various powers with which his nature is endowed. The purely 
external sphere of human life can be affected but accidentally by 
the circumstances of any particular profession ; and, therefore, 
we may pass at once to the consideration of those influences in 
our profession which are fitted to educe whatever is highest in 
man's inner life. 

It is impossible, in this consideration, to avoid separating a 
clergyman's theological and his practical life. I shall draw your 
attention firstly to the theological, because it is most strictly con- 



10 

nected with the work of our Society. Our task, then, is to esti- 
mate the value of theology as a discipline for intellectual culture. 
Let us place before us the highest type of mind, and analyze the 
elements of its greatness. What is the result? We certainly 
find one feature of mental excellence predominant over all 
others. Even in common life the general standard, by which the 
truest worth of any mind is estimated, is the comparative amount 
of thought which it is capable of exerting. The more exact and 
thorough our psychological investigations are, we shall be forced 
to recognize the accuracy with which common opinion represents 
the truth in this matter. The energy of every great mind, in all 
its various modes, is largely due to that form of intellectual 
power which is known in our systems under such various names 
as Judgment, Understanding, the Elaborate Faculty, the Faculty 
of Comparison, but in common speech is usually styled Thought, 
in its highest and most restricted sense. It is this force that 
elaborates those creations of the poetic imagination which dis- 
tinguish it from mere representation ; it is the same force which, 
as it 

" Flashes from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven," 

strikes out those happy comparisons which delight us in the wit 
of the humorist, and unfold to us the higher relations of 'truth in 
the invention of the philosopher. For the purposes of mental 
education, therefore, every study must be valued in proportion to 
the amount of thought which it is fitted to evoke ; and if it can 
be shown that the theological sciences are such as to demand 
the very strongest efforts of thought, then the profession, which 
is specially called to the study of these sciences, is not only not 
inconsistent with the noblest intellectual life, but is a desirable 
sphere of activity for the man who aspires to a life of so high an 
aim. In leading a proof of this it is unnecessary to glance with 
the slightest disparagement at a single other branch of intel- 
lectual labor, or even to institute a comparison between theology 
and any other science. The truth of my position will emerge on 
a very cursory investigation into the nature of the theological 
sciences themselves. 



11 

It is not entirely unworthy of consideration, as a first general 
view of theological studies, that Christianity, as the absolute 
religion, maintains all religious life, so far as really religious, and 
all truth, so far as really true, to be Christian life and Christian 
truth ; it denies, therefore, that any intelligent thinking or any 
noble living can possibly be out of harmony with it. In conse- 
quence of this sublime claim, the scientific study of Christianity 
involves a reference, more or less direct, to every possible object 
of human knowledge* No other science, therefore, can demand 
such a severe and thorough investigation of the relations in which 
the separate truths of all the sciences are comprehended as the 
harmonious parts of one intellectual system. 

But, to descend from this general position, the special objects 
of theological study must give the strongest conceivable impulse 
to the very highest energies of thought. The theologian, if he 
would be honest to his calling, cannot avoid carrying his re- 
searches to the limits themselves of all speculation. Fearful of 
no consequence so much as of corrupting his conscience by dis- 
honesty to the questionings of his own mind, and untouched — 
as he, who would preach eternal truth, should surely be — by 
temporal temptations to tamper with his honesty, the theological 
student must be prepared to face the task of searching into the 
very grounds of being, — of searching even whether all that seems 
to be is not merely a meaningless phantasmagory of being, and we 
ourselves but ephemeral trifles that have been unintelligibly 
tossed up in the midst of the universal illusion. No one need 
fear lest I may exalt too highly the value of such speculation. I 
am speaking now of the results it has achieved, not in the dis- 
covery of established truths, but in the education of the mind. 
Whether speculation will ever permanently settle the final pro- 
blems of human knowledge need not be discussed here ; it is a 
question which cannot be answered but by speculating on it ; 
only by speculation can the worth or worthlessness of speculation 
be known. Moreover, notwithstanding the assertions of modern 
Phenomenalism on the fruitlessness of all enquiry into these final 
problems, it surely can never cease to be a question of interest 



12 

for all men, whether it is not a mere poetical figure, but the sober, 
scientific truth which some declare it to be, that 

" We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep ? " 

But apart from all this, it is impossible to doubt the ^igor of the 
discipline which is involved in grappling with these problems. 
The uttermost of the force within him is called into play by the 
man who girds himself for such an intellectual conflict, who 
wrestles with the universe, as the patriarch of old with the angel, 
to wring from it the secret of that name which tells its origin and 
destination. 

But it is not only with speculative theology, strictly so 
called, that the philosophic theologian has to do ; the various 
other departments of philosophy are also fields of his enquiry. It 
is impossible, as it is unnecessary, here to do more than remind 
you that a large number of the problems which occupy the pages 
of our systematic writers are capable of solution only by a 
previous settlement of analogous questions in psychology, ethics, 
political philosophy, or the philosophy of religion. We may. 
therefore, turn to the numerous other fields of study, to which 
we are invited in our vocation. It is certainly an important fact, 
in view of the subject which I am discussing, that few branches 
of science afford higher culture than philology, and that without 
it there can be no intelligent appreciation of our sacred writings. 
What is involved in a thorough philology you will not expect 
me to explain here, though it is well worth remembering that the 
application of its principles to the philology of any particular 
language implies some acquaintance with comparative philology, 
and that this science seems now to be inseparably bound up with 
the science of comparative mythology, which is already on the 
way to discover those conditions of early attempts to express 
thought which gave birth to the myths that we find in the 
infancy of every people. But the particular languages, which the 
theologian is required to study, are such that if the philologist 



13 

had wished to choose from the dialects of men two which, by 
reason of their opposite peculiarities, might afford scope for the 
speculations of his science, he could hardly have pitched upon 
any better suited to his purpose. The speech of that ancient 
people, who still live for us in the books of the Old Covenant, 
presents numerous peculiar attractions to the student of philology. 
With its scarcity and simplicity of words and their forms ; with its 
still greater scarcity and simplicity of syntactical modifications ; 
with its destitution of those refinements which are necessary to the 
exactness of philosophic, and the measured rhythm of poetic, 
expression ; how far does it stand from the Greek, whose elaborate 
verbal and nominal modifications, whose equally elaborate 
refinements of phraseology, bring us back to it as still the most 
successful effort at a philosophic or artistic employment of 
language ! But language is only one of the forms in which the 
life of a people manifests itself. No language, therefore, can be 
scientifically studied apart from the character of the people who 
spoke it, apart from the influences which operated in the forma- 
tion of their character, and which must be traced through all the 
evolutions of their history. Is it possible to conceive a nobler 
or more fascinating sphere of enquiry than that which is thus 
opened up to the student of theology ? He is thus carried back to 
the earliest beginnings of human history ; he is invited to search 
the questions which arise in the criticism of ancient historic re- 
cords, the problems which bear upon the origin and growth of social 
and political organizations, upon the wanderings and settlements 
of different races, upon the formation and development of king- 
doms, through the various spheres of their political, religious, 
and literary life, with the influences which they exerted on one 
another. He is specially called to study the history of one 
people, and the work which was given it to accomplish in the 
evolution of the divine world-plan. In the connection of this 
people with Egypt, he must become acquainted with that wonder- 
land of the ancient world, whose place in human history seems 
only now beginning to be truly estimated. The relation of Israel 
to the Persian and other old empires which stretched over the 



14 

vast plains of Western Asia, must form another subject of study 
to the theological student ; and before he can pass to the times 
of the New Covenant, he must follow the Macedonian conqueror 
through the changes which he effected in the kingdoms of the 
East, and trace the operation of the Greek influences which he 
brought with him into Eastern countiies, and especially the 
modifications which these produced in the literature and life of 
the Jews. 

It is a great disappointment to be unable even to point out 
the most prominent objects of interest that rise up before us in 
imagination throughout the extensive field to which we are thus 
introduced by the connection of Judea with Greece. I am also 
unable to do more than remind you that the times of our Lord 
are unintelligible without an acquaintance with the history of 
Rome and with the condition of the Roman empire at the date of 
His birth. We are thus carried on to investigate the gradual 
inroad of Christianity into the forms of life which preceded it, 
and the influence which it has exerted on all history down 
through these eighteen centuries ; for, during the greater part 
of this period, the history of the civilized world has been the 
history of Christianity, and the history of European speculation 
has been the history of the development of Christian dogma. 

These brief hints have left you to fill up for yourselves the 
wide ranges of intellectual work that are thrown open to the 
student of theology. I wish I could have had time to sketch 
some of the prominent features in the practical work of our pro- 
fession, in order to exhibit the advantages which it also possesses 
for assisting us to realize in our earthly life the life of the true 
divine. My chief design has been to vindicate the rank of theo- 
logical studies among the higher intellectual pursuits ; and the 
remarks I have made express the answer which I have long 
silently given, not only to the common insinuations of literary 
snobs, but to the more serious assertions of more earnest men, 
and to the still more serious fears which have risen at times 
within my own mind, that the higher intellectual life must be 
abandoned in entering the clerical profession. I hope that the 



15 

spirit in which these remarks have been made may be caught 
in fuller measure by those whom we, that are now closing our 
academical career, shall leave behind us in the Society ; and 
while we now bid you and each other farewell, we do so in the 
hope that, if the Beneficent Ruler of our destinies should ever 
demand a union among us in some wider sphere for accomplish- 
ing any of the purposes which the future history of His Kingdom 
may require, we may find that the companionship, which has 
grown up among us here, has already formed a basis of common 
sympathies, on which we shall be able at once to understand 
each other, and to go forth, that we do together, and do with all 
our might, whatever work we may be called to perform. 



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